The signing of bilateral agreements this week between the Commonwealth and Australia’s largest states, Victoria and New South Wales, was a historic moment for people with disabilities and our families and carers. Not only was it a demonstration of how politicians can work together to achieve something good, but it also means that for at least 200,000 Australians, we finally have certainty about our lives and our futures.
Imagine you’re waiting for a train, you’ve had a long, and tiring day. You wait on the platform for hours but there’s no announcement, no indication whatsoever about when your train will arrive to take you home. It’s cold and wet and it’s getting dark. A cold blustery wind is chilling you to the bone and moment by moment you look up to the platform monitor hoping to see when your train will arrive.
There are so many things that you would rather be doing.
If only you knew how much longer you’d be waiting. You begin to wonder if your train will come at all. You think about other ways to get home: a tram, taxi or a bus or you might even start walking. Maybe you’ll call a friend or family member to pick you up. You don’t want to do that though because surely, any minute now…
It’s getting colder. It’s dark now, so you decide to call for help and discover your phone is almost out of battery. Is there enough power left for you to make that call? You start to panic.
Suddenly there is an announcement. “Attention passengers. The 5:30 PM Lilydale train will be arriving at 7 PM on platform number 8. We apologise for the delay”. The platform monitor lights up and counts down the arrival of your train. You double check that it’s your train and that you’re on the right platform. You feel overcome by gratitude and relief, your anxiety subsides. It’s still a long wait but you take comfort in knowing that you’ll be home soon.
On Wednesday this week, an unprecedented number of Australians with disabilities and their families and carers learnt when their NDIS journey would begin. With the strike of our Prime Minister’s and State Premiers’ pens we learnt about the full roll-out of the scheme. It was an emotional moment and the culmination of years of advocacy and campaigning for what we knew was not only needed to uphold the human rights of people with disabilities, but also a necessary investment into our lives, enabling us to get jobs and contribute to our communities.
Thousands of us scurried to the NDIS website to look up the launch dates for our local areas. It felt a bit like checking the Lotto numbers. For some, such as those in Melbourne’s north-east and Sydney’s north, it will happen in less than 9 months. For others, such as those in the Mallee and outer Gippsland, there is at least a 4 year wait.
It’s never fun to wait for anything but it’s easier when you know how long the wait will be.
As the other states in Australia remain silent about their rollout plans, I ask their leaders and our Prime Minister to consider the importance of certainty for all Australians. There are too many people with disabilities and their families and carers out in the cold, not knowing when their journey to the NDIS will arrive. Their batteries are running low. Let them know that their train is on its way, for they, like all Australians with disabilities, have been waiting for far too long for reasonable and necessary support.